Do I Need a Custom Website? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Colour Outside is a full-service branding agency. This means we do brand work and execute all the creative deliverables that come along with it. But like all multi-talented people, we have our stand-out, core skills.

Our three main services include building brand identities, creating custom websites, and delivering premium multimedia design.

We are often called upon to assess whether a potential client needs a custom website or if they can make do with a template that’s out there. But if you’re the shy type that likes to do some research before making the jump to talk to an expert, here’s a few helpful questions to ask yourself before making a decision:

1. Do I require significant functionality aside from basic website features?

Basic web features include the ability to add or remove pages, diverse text (headings, indented lists, etc.), image placement, video embedding, and basic forms. Examples of more significant functionality include events calendars, media libraries, dynamic database fetching, advanced forms, social media feed embeds, complex slideshows, pop-ups and lightboxes, and more.

Many web themes from marketplaces like Envato (offering thousands of templates for WordPress) and Squarespace provide the ability to add this more significant functionality to your template site via plugins or site add-ons. But these are often designed and developed by third-party providers, and require customizing and styling to fit with the template site.

Further, the more of these significant features you try to add to your site, the more time is going to be required by your website partner to build your site. At the end of it all, it may be more worthwhile to build a custom site that you had complete control over rather than a patchwork that you had only some control over.

If your needs are met by basic web features, you may not need a custom site. But if you’re looking for more advanced functionality, a custom site may be the best option for you.

2. Am I bothered by many other sites on the web sharing the design and layout of my site?

Web themes and templates are sold in marketplaces that are trying to sell as many licenses as possible for those designs. Often, a single web template will have hundreds (or more) of downloads by people building sites that look just like the one you’re about to build.

Does the success of your business efforts depend on a distinct, unique look on the web? Does this matter to your internal personnel or to your audience? If the answer to these questions is yes, you may want to consider a custom site. If no, then you may be adequately served by a web template.

3. Do I want the opportunity to customize the look and behavior of most of the site?

Some people don’t feel the need to nitpick their websites. As long as things look generally okay and everything works, they are happy and feel that is the only necessary investment in their site. And many of them may operate within industries where function is valued far more than form. For these folks, template sites will often serve them well.

But for those who care (or obsess!) over the visual representation of their brand on the web, template sites may not be good enough. While you can customize templates and change colors and fonts, vast customization efforts of templates can actually end up being more work than building custom sites.

So if you’re the type of person that will want to labor over every image, every button, and the look of every social media embed, you may want to consider a custom site.

4. Do I need this website to integrate with an old, obscure, or proprietary web tool?

Many brands have additional digital tools that need to be integrated with their sites. Examples include Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs), e-commerce and financial platforms (like Quickbooks), or databases (created in frameworks like MySQL). Many of the more modern, widely-used tools are equipped with APIs and connectors for the most popular theme and template providers out there.

But when your business depends on web tools that are old, obscure, or proprietary (homegrown), it’s far less likely that these will play nicely with your template site. If you are using old or archaic web tools like SQL or ColdFusion, or your tools were developed in-house, you will likely find a web template doesn’t get the job done for you.

5. Do I want help thinking through and developing the site page structure, copywriting, and image/graphic selection?

It’s important to remember that all of the beautiful websites you see advertised contain expertly chosen, edited and placed photos and graphics. Additionally, the structure and copy was all developed by a professional.  Are you prepared to take that all on yourself, or do you want to hand that off to an expert?

Even if you want to use a template but pay someone to develop all the site content for you, you may end up with the financial investment of a simple custom site that would include all of those services.

Investing in a custom site when you don’t need it is painful. Dealing with endless template frustrations when you should have built a custom site is equally painful. So allow these questions to guide your decision before you start talking to a web partner to build your site.

Note: Colour Outside’s subsidiary Hello Indigo delivers template-based websites soup to nuts for clients with very basic website needs. Ask us about HI if you feel a template site will meet your needs!

– Justin Schoonmaker

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